Happy New Year! It’s my sincere hope that you’ve been blessed to welcome 2019 in good cheer, and with fresh spirit to surpass the achievements of the last 12 months.
The new year brings with it new challenges, and in sports, they are gargantuan.
It’s a year in which government, through the Ministry of Sport and Heritage, must buckle up and get ready for either a smooth drive or bumpy ride.
There’s no room for playing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Blowing hot and cold, as government does so often with vintage fashion.
Having been in office for approximately 10 months now, Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Mohammed Echesa has made commendable progress.
But he must be prepared to be judged on how he handles this important docket in the next few months if he wishes to, unlike most of his nonchalant predecessors, leave a positive legacy.
Granted, with a paltry vote from the exchequer, it will always be difficult for this perennially under-funded ministry to make meaningful impact, but huge ground can be gained through prudent policy formulation and wise decision-making.
To his credit, Echesa has done well to, inter alia, reduce uppercuts unleashed by warring boxing officials, make some headway in trying to have cricket leaders play with a straight bat and successfully, albeit in fits and starts, kick-start refurbishment of our worn-out stadiums.
His skills in mediating aside, how the former boxer handles the straight punches that come this year will make or break him and his administration at Kencom House.
There are many key events this year, including the African Games in Morocco and IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Denmark, but, principally, four key areas in 2019 draw my attention as being critical to the future of our sport.
These are Kenya’s return to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in March, the Safari Rally’s running of a World Rally Championship (WRC) candidate event in July along with the build-up to next year’s Tokyo Olympics and the IAAF World Under-20 Championships, the latter which Nairobi will host.
And on all these fronts, we are lagging worryingly behind schedule, with everything pointing at financial and administrative challenges.
For instance, Football Kenya Federation requires huge funding to run its programmes this year, with $2 million (Sh200 million) needed for the Afcon campaign alone.
Members of the WRC Safari Project team, that was put together about 14 months ago, haven’t been paid their allowances ever since they assumed office and at this rate, operations could, painfully and embarrassingly, grind to a halt.
Meanwhile, the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for the 2020 IAAF World Under-20 Championships, which was to have been gazetted by October 15, 2018, is yet to be formed.
Besides, the approximately Sh126 million required to prepare Team Kenya for these championships is yet to be voted at a time the team should have been a month old in camp.
And with the Tokyo Olympics fast drawing closer, it would be interesting to see if the government and National Olympic Committee of Kenya can pull off a scandal-free build-up.
Most crucially, it raises concern that the International Automobile Federation (FIA) granted Kenya’s 2019 Safari Rally candidate event status with a view to having the event reinstated into the WRC series in 2020.
This means that Kenya must run a flawless, world class Safari Rally from July 5 to 7 this year in order to be included in the 2020 global circuit when the calendar is drawn in September.
But with the LOC team still chasing allowances and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) yet to issue payment guidelines since their formation last September, we are certainly in deep waters.
The apparent false start by Lydia Cherop Mengich and her 11 commissioners at SRC means that even if the LOC for the IAAF World Under-20 Championships is constituted today, its members too will serve without pay.
What’s more worrying is that officials from both the FIA and International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) have already trained their sights on Nairobi, monitoring our level of preparedness, or lack of it.
In fact, in just two weeks’ time, a high-level team of 15 IAAF officials will descend on Nairobi for an important site visit that could make or break Kenya’s chances of hosting yet another major global age-group competition in 2020.
Similarly, Frenchwoman Michelle Mouton - the legendary Safari Rally driver famed for her Audi Quattro days - will soon be here as an FIA expert to assess Kenya’s preparations for both the candidate event in July and fully-fledged WRC run next year.
But with our trademark delays in securing financing for such important sports programmes, the future continues to look bleak.
Tough decisions will have to be made at Kencom House otherwise we shall lose the fight to organize a WRC Safari Rally and be stripped of hosting rights for the 2020 IAAF World Under-20 Championships.
How embarrassing it would be, considering President Uhuru Kenyatta is Patron of the WRC Safari Project!
And unless Echesa hits the ground running this week, we shall also travel to the Afcon finals and Tokyo Olympics merely to make up the numbers.
Government must get the horse out of the paddocks immediately by ensuring the much-trumpeted National Sports Fund is not still-born, especially as the resources and manpower available at Kencom House are insufficient to run meaningful sports programmes.
Over to you, CS Echesa!
I wish you, and our sports people, a happy, rewarding 2019.